When cultures collide
Berlin is a cultural experimentation - with continuous reminders of deep conflicts history and internal divisiveness - this city of many faces still manages to find harmony through a multitude of cultures.
I was in Berlin to meet my great friends from Thailand, Tania, Sonia and their parents, who were in Germany for work. My only goal was to spend time with them. I didn't do much research before landing, but in the end, I still managed to get a good taste of the city.
My visit to the Checkpoint Charlie museum had an impact on me. I read various stories about attempts to escape from East Berlin to the West. I was in awe of the strength and creativity shown by those in pursuit of their freedom. Some hid in suitcases. Some installed the tiniest of hiding spaces in cars. Some even created new tools to aid the crossing of the wall. I now have a deeper appreciation for my freedom and won't take it for granted.
Checkpoint Charlie has come a long way from its time as a symbol of tension and imposed oppression. Today, ironically, McDonald's now stands right next to Checkpoint C., Berlin has now gotten what it wanted - freedom. Freedom to experiment, Freedom to create. Freedom to welcome and accept anyone.
The acceptance of different cultures within Berlin is also expressed in the choices of food. The most memorable meal I had was in an off-the-beaten-path Indian-inspired Armenian restaurant called 'Big Window'. This was anything but a 'usual experience'.
The small, dimly lit restaurant took you back in time with its old-school decor. The clientele were on the older side. Everyone dressed to the nines and they seemed to know one another quite well.
As a group consisting of American, Thai, Indian and Korean ethnicities, we stood out like sore thumbs.
I felt like we were intruding on the secret space of an underground society. As we entered, I felt slightly unwelcome as a gentleman asked us, in a deep voice, 'how did you know about us?'
'Umm from a book...' I replied, feeling unsure if we should be there. The man said he knew exactly what book I was talking about.
That gentleman, as it turns out, was the restaurant's owner, Mr. Ivan. He is Armenian - by way of India - who settled in Berlin sometime back. Mr. Ivan seated us and explained how the night was going to work.
The rules were simple - in fact there was only one rule. He would suggest what we should try. We would say no if we didn't want it. When we enquired about some of the dishes, Mr.Ivan wouldn't give many details, except that the meat-in-question was soaked for days in a secret Armenian sauce.
That was enough for me. Yes, please.
The most curious part about the meal began when Mr. Ivan struck up a conversation with Mr. Ashoke, my friends' dad. They talked a lot about Indian dishes and ingredients. That's when we learnt that Mr. Ivan used to live in India, hence the type of meal he serves at 'Big Window.' Throughout the night, they exchanged small stories from India, mostly food-related. Bite by bite, the bond took shape.
The food at 'Big Window' was the best meat-on-a-stick situation I've ever had. What made the meal more memorable was the serendipitous moment at the end when we learnt that Ashoke and Ivan actually went to the same school - St. Paul's in Darjeeling.
I find this random encounter between the two gentlemen to be a good symbolic representation of the city today which caters to an influx of all sorts of lives. People come and create their own cultures, but still manage to come across a piece of home somewhere in Berlin.